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Monday, 22 August 2011

Mobile Learning..... Some possibilities with little effort and investment

From my studies in mobile learning developments and trends from past couple of months, I could arrive at the following conclusions:
  • Most of the mlearning softwares that present in the market are mainly for high end phones like Blackberry and Apple I-phones.
  • It is difficult to device an application to run in all kind of phones, because the capabilities and functionalities of different phones are different and some are very vendor specific.
  • Many organizations are building online web based applications for mobile phones as most of the mobile phones come with web browser, so that can assure that the application will run on the phones having web browser and Internet connectivity.
  •  Java ME has large market share as mobile application development platform. Many of the mobile phone comes with Java (except Apple I-phones).
  • The mlearning scenario will improve drastically on arrival of 3G/4G connectivity.

 I have studied few possibilities of Mobile Learning. Finally I could arrive at the following feasibilities:

1) Online Mobile learning framework:
We know about the famous open source learning framework Moodle. Now, Matthias Meisenberger and his team has developed an open source mobile learning system called MLE (Mobile Learning Engine) which runs as a plugin with Moodle. It is very easy to install once Moodle is configured properly. I will explain installation and configuration of MLE in my blog post. Now as a demo I have created a course named Mlearning testing course in Moodle. This course has some topics like History of MMS, Technical description MMS etc. Also I have assigned this course as mobile learning course and it will be served by MLE. Now if I open the mobile learning course in my mobile phone browser it looks like:



To access our mlearning site in mobile, open http://mobile.mkcl.org/ (right now it is disabled) in your mobile web browser.

Now I have to login with my Moodle ID/Password:



Now I am at the home page of my login. Here I can see the available courses. I can see the mLearning Testing course which is available for me.



Now if I go to the available course, I can see weekly list of contents (if you have used Moodle, you are already aware of these)




Next I can see the available contents:



Clicking the individual content link I can see the content.



The problem with accessing the content with web browser is that it is purely online, every time it needs data transfer. MLE also provides mobile phone client software for accessing the mobile learning website. The main benefit of using the client software is that we can download the content into the phone, so that we can see the content offline. The client is easy to use and can be installed in many available mobile phones as it is developed in Java (except in iphones). Also if we install the gateway server, the data transfer can be compressed.

To download the client, open the mobile learning website. In the home page, there is a link MLE install (phone software) to install the client software.

 


 It supports wide variety of vendors, select the vendor:



 Select the model number for the phone:



As I could not find my phone’s model number, so I am going to install standard generic application in my phone.



 Or I can download the java executable file and install the client later. After I installed the client application in my phone, I could see it in my phone’s application list (as MLE Moodle):



 First time when I run this application, it will ask to setup the navigation keys. Also I can save the login for my mobile learning website.



After login if I go to My Courses, the client application connects to the server



Once connected, I can see my courses:




 Reading the content:



Closing the client application:



Using the MLE plugin we could build our own online m-learning framework which is easy to use and available on all the mobile phones with web browser and internet.



2) SMS based learning:
We can use the highly popular SMS service as a learning method. University Sains Malaysia (USM) started SMS in their learning methods for postgraduate programs in School of Distance Education. What they written about the major challenge they faced in this method:
The major challenge was in the preparation of the sms content for the identified courses. Although one sms text message is constructed within 160 characters only, the message has to be constructed with pedagogical underpinnings in order to facilitate for the teaching and learning processes of the respective courses. As an initial project the messages were limited to only one per day for a five-day message week. So for now, the activities are confined to content-rich messages with notions of subject matter delivery, links to equations in their modules, reflective learning, motivational as well as instructional messages. The SMS are designed to embed learning content support to the learners as they approach their final exams.
Source: http://www.eindia.net.in/2010/awards/details/DL-ODLearning-College-Details.asp?PNo=19

To send SMS based course content I have written a sample application using open source softwares like PHP and MySQL. It can be opened using the link: http://mlearning.mkcl.org/mlearning/ (Right now it is disabled)

 

Here I can add different courses:




After adding a course I can add different contents into that course.


Now to send contents to users, we need to create users in the application. Here users are placed in different groups and contents are sent group wise.
Creating group:



Adding user:



Editing users:



Adding user into a group:



After contents, users and groups are created; we are ready to send it. We can send the content by SMS/Email or both.




SMS method can be effective, if content is properly developed (keeping in view of the 160 character limitation of SMS).



3) Mlearning content as application:
We can create course content as an application and this can be sent to a mobile phone. The most common mobile phone applications are java based applications. We can use some mobile learning authoring tools to create content applications and send it to mobile phones.
One very good mobile content author is Hot Lava Learning Mobile Author http://www.outstart.com/about-hot-lava-mobile.htm




We can create content using this application and we can export the content into different formats like Palm, PocketPC, WAP, HTML and Java. Hot Lava has a complete framework for sending content to mobile devices and then analyzing and reporting. But it’s expensive at this moment. But we can use the Learning Mobile Author for free.
I have downloaded a sample java content application for CCNA examination preparation which was developed by this Learning Mobile Author.
We can develop content using this author tool, but how we can send it to mobile phones? Well for that I used the application I developed (which I mentioned in previous step). Login to the application
and upload the jar file. For creating file content go to the link Add Content



Select the file and click on Upload button



 Once file is uploaded, we can create the file content.



After the content is created in this application, we are ready to send it to our mobile learners. Click on Send Content to send the content.



The content we can send is:
  • File content only: If we select it, only the uploaded file’s download link will be send to the learners.
  • Text content only: If it is selected, the text we added with the uploaded file will only be sent to the learners. No file downloading link will be sent.
  • Both text and file: In this case both the content text and file downloading link will be sent to the learner.
Also the send medium can be SMS/Email or both.



Now the learner will get SMS/Email for downloading the file.
Learner who do not have Internet in their mobile phone, can download the content using the link sent in the Email and can transfer the content java file into their mobile using Bluetooth or Data cable.





Learner who have Internet connection in their mobile phone can directly download the java file into their phone using the download link sent in the SMS.





After installation, I can see the application



If I open the application, it looks like






4) Mobile learning using wordpress blog application:
Wordpress is world’s most popular open source blog software. Because it is open source, many dedicated developers are working very hard to develop different plugins for wordpress to enhance the functionalities and to make it feature rich. Wordpress has plugins which can make the blog compatible for mobile phones. WordPress Mobile Pack is one of the very successful and popular plugin which can transform the blog site into a mobile blog site. For example MKCL’s marketing blog and IT support blogs are mobile blog site (http://itsupport.mkcl.org and http://marketing.mkcl.org/ ). It has alert plugins, which can send alert mail whenever new content (post) is added into the blog. Wordpress can also be utilized as a good mobile learning platform.


So these were the different possibilities we can definitely look into for our mobile learning project. Also if we can expertise in JAVA ME, we can write our customize applications as per our requirement.


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